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The best way to describe Alibaba’s 11.11 Countdown Gala to an audience in the Western Hemisphere is that it’s kind of like Sábado Gigante meets a Super Bowl halftime show.
The four-hour event started Saturday night in Shanghai’s 18,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Arena and was streamed live on video platform Youku. The goal: to get consumers fired up about Singles Day—and perhaps loosen their purse strings while they were at it.
The means to that end this year included singer Mariah Carey, supermodel Miranda Kerr (who pushed her skin-care line and sang a song in Mandarin with the hosts), retired NBA star Allen Iverson, comedian Naomi Watanabe (who is also known as the Beyoncé of Japan), pop stars Jay Chou and Coco Lee, boy band CTO, and a specially choreographed Singles Day performance by Cirque du Soleil. And it seems to have worked—Alibaba sold nearly $31 billion over the next 24 hours.
It was a night of performances interspersed with brand messages, including commercial breaks and on-air nods to brands like Aldi, Apple, Gerber, Nike, Reebok and Skoda. There were also games in which onstage talent was divided between red and blue teams to square off in something like tug of war but with a big clear wall they pushed at each other, as well as basketball, but with two guys wearing giant shot-blocking men on their backs. (Iverson appeared during the latter with sponsor Reebok.)
There were also more prominent brand integrations.
Chinese furniture brand Kuka, for example, was front and center throughout the broadcast, including its logo onscreen, as well as product placement in performances like members of a boy band sitting on a couch and some chairs during one of their routines and co-hosts standing near an upended mattress and pillows.
Grocery retailer Aldi was also highly visible throughout the night with its onscreen logo, as well as spots during commercial breaks. In addition, Aldi shopping carts made a cameo as props in a Britney-Spears-from-“…Baby One More Time”-inspired routine with young female performers dressed like Catholic schoolgirls in pastels.
Coco Lee’s performance was sponsored by Disney—she sang a bilingual mashup of songs from movies like Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Frozen. And, later in the broadcast, Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofy and friends made an appearance.
The other brand that stood out was Czech car manufacturer Skoda, which received a nod from the co-hosts and featured an AR car onstage to highlight its Singles Day deals.